Louise Red Corn
The bronze statue of Osage prima ballerina Marjorie Tallchief that has graced the grounds of the Tulsa Historical Society and Museum for about 15 years was stolen around April 28 then recovered on May 2, in pieces – missing her head and arm – at a recycling center in Catoosa.
For their theft and maiming of the work of art, the thieves or thief received something around $250 for the copper-rich bronze that was cast in Pawhuska by John Free, the Osage owner of the Bronze Horse Foundry.
The statue was one of five Native ballerinas from Oklahoma that Free cast; all are “en pointe” on one toe, which Free said made them more susceptible to theft than statues with larger, more secure bases.
“We’ve never really had anything taken like that,” Free said. “It’s attached to the stone base, just a toe with a rod going through it. If you had enough guys pushing and pulling on it, you could break it loose.”
Michelle Place, the director of the museum, said on May 2 that the bronze had been sawed off its base, probably on Thursday night, although it was not noticed until Saturday.
News coverage over the weekend and viral social media sharing about the theft caught the attention of two employees at the recycling plant, Place said, and they stepped forward to say part of the sculpture was at the Catoosa facility. Place did not want to name the recycling plant but said it was a reputable operation with strict guidelines and rules, as well as being a part of a Fortune 500 company.
Sims Metal is a publicly-traded metal recycler that owns the only recycling plant in Catoosa.
The bronze and its four ballerina sisters – Maria Tallchief, Yvonne Chouteau, Rosella Hightower and Moscelyne Larkin – were sculpted by Gary Henson and Monte England. England died in 2005 before all were completed, but Henson was devastated by the loss of Marjorie Tallchief, Place said.
“Gary is just crushed,” she said. “He said that provided it wasn’t too damaged, we can put her back together again.
“He kept saying, ’We can do this. I can bring her back,’” Place said.
Free reiterated that, from the photos he’s seen of the chopped-up bronze, it would be easy to put her back together. Of course, the remaining pieces of the sculpture would need to be found – and the Tulsa police and museum are urging anyone who knows where the statue’s head and arms are to call the police at (918) 596-COPS. Callers can remain anonymous and get a cash reward for tips that pan out.
Place said that the Tulsa police have “great leads” on the perpetrator or perpetrators of the crime.
Recasting the entire bronze would be a challenge because the original molds for the statues are believed to have burned in a fire several years ago.
The Marjorie Tallchief bronze is not the first sculpture depicting an Osage woman to be the victim of a heist and turned into scrap. Last year, a 7-foot, 400-pound bronze of an Osage woman bartering with the French fur trader François Chouteau was plucked from her limestone bluff overlooking a fountain in Kansas City and sold for scrap. At the time, Kansas City Police said that they had witnessed many bronze plaques stolen but never a full-blown statue.
The Tulsa Historical Society has set up a Go Fund Me account to defray the cost of repairing the Marjorie Tallchief bronze and to increase security around the outdoor sculpture display known as The Five Moons. Within five hours, the effort had raised more than $3,000 but the goal is at least $15,000.
This story was initially published in the Osage News